December 2012, London was floating in a post-Olympic boom. Arsenal announced new contracts for 5 young British players.
Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as signed a new contract on the same day (in front of the cameras at least). The message was clear.
After years of Arsenal being the foreign legion of English football; the future was English (and Welsh, like the cricket team). Theo Walcott made it a Dirty Dozen of talented players under 25-years-old.
The success for Arsenal based on the British core; and success for England would surely be built around 5 of the 6 players.
Roll forward to 2019 and, with Aaron Ramsey set to leave on a free transfer, only one man remains. Carl Jenkinson. I wonder what odds you would have got back in 2012 that the former Charlton trainee would outlast his more talented colleagues.
In the cup competitions this season, the League Cup, Europa League and last weekend in the FA Cup, Unai Emery has given a whole host of young players a chance.
It may still be early, but Emery is developing his own British Core.
Emery inherited two first team British players in Rob Holding and Alex Iwobi.
Prior to his injury, Holding was Arsenal’s most improved player this season. He has been sorely missed since his injury, testament to his development. He has put himself into contention to be long term first choice centre back. The talk amongst many is that we now need to buy Holding a partner. We no longer need to buy two starting central defenders.
Whilst he now plays for Nigeria, the country of his birth, Iwobi is certainly British.
Born in Lagos, he moves to London at the age of 4. Now 22, he has spent 18 years in the capital. His London twang and swagger. He is as much a Londoner as he is a Nigerian. He has paved the way for the flood of further Londoners coming through.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has now been in and around the first team for a couple of seasons. In recent weeks he has shown his quality and utility. Playing left back, right back, central midfield and on the wing. Still just 21, he has a future for Arsenal and England as a James Milner-type utility man.
A whole host of other youngsters have also got game time in the cup competitions.
Eddie Nketiah was unlucky not to get a hat trick against Blackpool in the FA Cup. Anyone that has watched him at youth level would have been surprised by his misses. He is a clinical finisher.
With Danny Welbeck set to leave at the end of this season, expect Nketiah to lead the line in the cup competitions next season.
Whilst Nketiah missed his chances yesterday, Joe Willock scored two.
The youngster stalled last season, and struggled in his senior games. This season he has gone from strength to strength, and now has 3 goals in his 3 senior games.
He is developing into a box to box midfielder, becoming a very smart player able to get forward and back at speed. His ability to find space in the box reminds you of Aaron Ramsey. Should Arsenal replace the Welshman from within?
Currently returning from injury is Emile Smith Rowe. He has been the standout youngster of this season. A classy attacking player who can play in all 3 positions behind the front 3, he has a big future at Arsenal.
Dropping down an age group now is two very talented kids.
Bukayo Saka could be the best of the lot. Just 17-years-old, he has pace, power and technique.
Arsenal should consider sending him down a similar route as Reiss Nelson. A year in Germany getting plenty of game time, he would come back a different player. This lad is going to be quality.
Finally we have Zech Medley.
I have been frustrated that during Arsenal’s defensive injury crisis, Emery has gone for Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichsteiner in defence rather than give a chance to 18-year-old Medley.
Medley, like Nketiah, was on the books of Chelsea before joining Arsenal at 16-years-old. He looks to have it all.
A towering centre back, he showed bravery and strength in the air with one challenge against Blackpool. He pairs his height and power with fabulous ball playing ability. Alongside speed across the ground, he has it all to become a modern ball playing central defender.
To top it all off, he is left footed. A left sided central defender seems like the holy grail in the modern game.
He probably will not start challenging for the first team on a regular basis for another 2 and a half seasons – 2021/22. This might seem a long time away, but Medley would be barely 21-years-old.
Certainly one to leave in the box, playing youth team level and keep an eye on for the future.
Some of these lads might make it at Arsenal, some might not. One thing is for certain, however; they have all lived the dream playing for The Arsenal.
The highlight of 2018/19 so far has been watching so many local boys getting their chance.